A Peek Behind the Bars

Correctional-Nursing-ImageWith more than 2.2 million people currently incarcerated in our nation’s prison and jail system, there is a growing need for qualified medical professionals that are able to support this undeserved population. While not the right assignment for every nurse, those that choose to pursue a career in this unique healthcare environment will experience a host of benefits not readily available in more traditional healthcare settings. Keep reading to learn more about the advantages of a correctional nursing career and to determine if this career path is the right fit for you.

Autonomous Practice

Correctional nurses are the face of healthcare within the corrections environment. In many cases, they serve as the gatekeeper to physicians and other medical services. From an initial assessment of a patient’s needs to developing a treatment plan (in consultation with a doctor), nurses are the primary (and sometimes only) healthcare provider that patients will have access to for their medical needs. Thus correctional nursing provides clinicians with an opportunity to utilize the full range of their clinical expertise (within a provider’s discretion) to support the health and safety of the inmates.

Correctional Nursing Benefit: Use the full range of your medical knowledge


In traditional healthcare settings, nurses quickly find themselves following a structure or a routine. However, in a correctional healthcare setting, nurses have the opportunity to manage many more variables throughout their workday. For instance, in one day, a correctional nurse may treat a patient with acute injuries, a patient that is trying to manage a long-term illness and a patient that is just returning from surgery. The ability to think quickly and be flexible is paramount. Nurses that are looking to gain a variety of experience quickly will have the opportunity in a correctional healthcare setting.

Correctional Nursing Benefit: Gain experience with a wide variety of medical conditions

A Strict Focus on Patient Care

According to many correctional nurses, a major difference between the correctional and non-correctional healthcare setting is the natural emotional limitations between the patient and the caregiver. For multiple reasons, correctional nurses are encouraged not to develop personal relationships with inmates. While different than a traditional healthcare setting, this approach allows the nurse to focus strictly on a patient’s condition and treatment. This does not mean that the nurse does not have compassion and empathy for the inmate’s medical concerns. However, it does mean that conversations are strictly limited to medical discussions to ensure that biases and personal opinions do not influence the quality of care.

Correctional Nursing Benefit: A focused approach on patient treatment

Rewarding Accomplishments

Nurses in a correctional healthcare setting have the opportunity to be present for the inmate’s entire healthcare journey. From diagnosis to cure (or stabilization in the case of chronic conditions), a correctional nurse is there to assist and advocate for the patient’s medical needs. Unlike traditional healthcare settings where the patient moves onto the care of a specialist or primary care physician, correctional nurses are there for it all. Many correctional nurses that have made the transition from a traditional practice find this aspect of their job especially rewarding. Furthermore, for some inmates, the correctional nurse will be the first clinician that consistently and routinely advocates for their well-being.

Correctional Nursing Benefit: Being present for the entire healthcare journey


Healthcare professionals always question the safety of a correctional healthcare environment. Despite the uncertainty around working with a population that has a criminal background, recent studies have shown more violence occurs within private healthcare settings than correctional healthcare settings. Furthermore, to ensure the safety of healthcare professionals within the facility, strict operational guidelines and protocols are always adhered to. For instance, the clinician is provided with a secure location to work in and armed guards are present for the duration of visit. Correctional nurses generally experience fewer “surprises” throughout their day when compared with nurses in traditional healthcare settings.

Correctional Nursing Benefit: A high emphasis on clinician safety

Correctional Nursing is a Best Kept Secret

Like every job, being a correctional nurse has its benefits and downfalls. Overall, it is an interesting healthcare profession and there is something new to learn with a different, rewarding experience each day. There is a growing need for more nurses in the correctional specialty. Consider a job in correctional nursing today!